Samson Highlights in Buenos Aires

ArgentinaArgentina  Handel, Samson: Soloists,Orfeón de Buenos Aires and Camerata Bariloche, Mario Videla, Teatro (conductor),Colón, Buenos Aires. 10.10.2011. (JSJ)


Delilah/Philistine woman/Israelite woman: Soledad de la Rosa
Micah: Virginia Correa Dupuy
Samson: Carlos Ullán
Jarafa: Hernán Iturralde
Manoa: Sergio Carlevaris
Messenger: Matías Tomasetto

Handel’s oratorios (and operas) are not that frequently performed in Buenos Aires, so a production of Samson was an event to look forward to – especially when it is being given by some of the best in this genre that this city has to offer.

Samson is of course he of Samson and Delilah, and Handel’s oratorio is his setting of Newburgh Hamilton’s adaptation of Milton’s “meditation” on Samson’s last days, old, blind and embittered to Delilah, which he famously started working on after completing The Messiah.

The work is in three parts lasting the better part of three hours but for this production it was reduced to two parts lasting about half that time, effectively making it a “highlights”. The cuts themselves were too numerous to detail – the break occurred after the Israelite chorus “To man God’s universal law,” essentially dividing the interaction with Delilah to the first part and with Jarafa and the subsequent appearance of Manoa to the second – but they left the text as just sufficient to maintain the storyline, including the most dramatic moments.

Among these are Samson’s “Total eclipse,” which was sung with depth by Carlos Ullán, and Delilah’s plaintive – what better description? – “With plaintive notes” beguilingly presented by Soledad de Rosa, not forgetting also Elias Gurevich’s violin accompaniment. Hernán Iturralde also made the most of Jarafa’s “Honour and arms scorn.”

For some reason the singers were placed behind the conductor, resulting in some awkward moments as they came forward, and from where this reviewer sat Virginia Correa Dupuy (Micah) was not visible during most of her recitatives/arias. Ironically too Sergio Carlevaris (“old” Manoa) appeared to be the youngest present! – that is, excepting the Messenger (Matías Tomasetto), who messenger-like entered and sung from the side of the stage.

Such anomalies are of course entirely normal in a concert format, and such is the power of a live performance that it doesn’t have to be perfect, as this was not, to be thoroughly enjoyable, as this was. Mention also must be made of the spirited singing of the chorus, Orfeón de Buenos Aires trained by Néstor Andrenacci and Pablo Piccinni. And the Camerata Bariloche, a chamber scale orchestra, supplemented here with woodwind and brass as well as a theorbo, gave a lively presentation under the stylish conducting of Mario Videla.

With the general level of excellence with which this was presented, it is all the more regrettable that the production was cut so drastically, and let us hope that a more complete offering of this wonderful work will be forthcoming.

Jonathan Spencer Jones